Mock weapons used to train educators in Harrold, Texas. The North Texas school district was the first to allow educators to carry guns on school grounds in 2007. Marjorie Kamys Cotera

Texas school safety measures expanded with House amendments to sweeping legislation

The Texas House expanded a sweeping school safety bill that now calls for students to learn about domestic violence prevention, requires certain training for school resource officers and would provide an undetermined amount of state money for campus security measures and mental health initiatives.

Some of the lower chamber’s additions to Senate Bill 11 on Tuesday revived the language or intent of a handful of House bills that were presumed dead after they failed to gain traction throughout the legislative session that ends Monday. Those successful amendments and the bill itself are lawmakers’ response to last year’s deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School.

“This legislation is inspired by the students, faculty and staff at Santa Fe High School,” said state Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, the House sponsor of the bill.

The House tentatively approved the new version of SB 11 in a 128-14 vote Tuesday. It now heads back to the Senate, which must agree to the changes or call for a conference committee to iron out the differences between the two chambers’ versions.

State Sen. Larry Taylor, a Republican from Friendswood and the Senate author of the bill, said he was working closely with Bonnen on language for the final version. Both men represent Santa Fe Independent School District.

The Senate version of the bill was overwhelmingly approved last month. It would strengthen mental health initiatives in Texas schools and ensure school districts’ employees — including substitute teachers — are equipped to respond to emergencies by requiring they have classroom access to a telephone and other electronic communication. It would also establish threat assessment teams to help identify potentially dangerous students and determine the best ways to intervene before they become violent. The reworked bill from the Texas House keeps these provisions in place.

SB 11, under both chambers’ versions, also requires school districts to appoint school safety committees that meet once a semester to provide their boards of trustees with recommendations for updates to their districts’ emergency operations plans.

In the revised version of the bill, Bonnen stripped a provision from the Senate bill which offered loan repayment assistance to those who serve as school counselors and licensed specialists on school psychology.

House lawmakers Tuesday also tacked on a number of amendments to the omnibus school safety bill including one, by Bonnen, saying that threat assessment teams can not provide mental health services for students younger than 18 unless they receive written consent from their parents. Another by state Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, requires school curriculums include courses on mental health and suicide prevention.

The lower chamber’s approval of Taylor’s bill comes on the heels of the anniversary of a shooting at Santa Fe High School, which left 10 dead and another 13 wounded. The bill touches on a number of proposals Gov. Greg Abbott laid out in a 43-page school safety plan he released less than two weeks after the shooting, including strengthening school security and mental health counseling.

School safety, among a number of other measures, topped Abbott’s priority list that he laid out early this year. During his State of the State speech, the governor reassured Texans that the Legislature would take steps this year to ensure a tragedy like the one at Santa Fe wouldn’t happen again.

And aside from Taylor’s sweeping school safety measure approved by the Texas House Tuesday, other school safety measures picking up steam this year include a bevy of bills that would alter an existing state-sanctioned program to arm teachers, including one to abolish a state-sanctioned cap on how many trained school employees can carry guns on campus.

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Author: ALEX SAMUELS – The Texas Tribune

The 86th Legislature runs from Jan. 8 to May 27. From the state budget to health care to education policy — and the politics behind it all — we focus on what Texans need to know about the biennial legislative session.